Creating an architect-builder dream team

A builder and an architect can be each other’s best friends or worst enemies depending on the project. Two pros who have taken the former approach and found great success are Builder Mahmoud “Mike” Elayan of ECS Homes and Architect Dan D’Agostino, AIA, of Plan Architecture.  
A home with brown wood shingles sits on a large plot of grassy land with a semi-circle driveway. The home has French doors and two stories of white windows with diamond and square window patterns

Too often, the architect and builder end up pitted against each other. What can be achieved when the architect and builder are true collaborators?

  • Mike Elayan (M.E.): An exceptional product because it’s a team working together toward a common cause of creating an absolutely magnificent space. The process and timeline also become much more efficient, as I can just pick up the phone and get the principal, Dan, in five seconds. We can have a conversation, make a call, and move the project forward avoiding dozens of RFIs and wasted weeks of time. 

  • Dan D’Agostino (D.A.): We’ve created an optimized end-to-end experience. We’re dealing with 20-30 problems a day, that’s just the nature of building, but nothing ever gets escalated. There’s an easy flow of information. Mike’s already in my head and I’m already in his head. It’s almost like you’ve hired an architect-builder.  

When there’s a positive relationship between architect and builder, what’s the greatest benefit to the client?

  • M.E.: I’ll add that the homeowner is actually getting what they’re supposed to get, because a lot of times, a builder will just loosely interpret the architect’s plans and make a judgement call that’s based on making more money and getting done quicker. The client doesn’t even know they’re missing all these details until the architect walks through at the end. As a builder, sometimes you don’t necessarily understand why an architectural detail is there, but when you’re party to the conversation, it all starts to make sense and you understand the end goal.  

  • D.A.: Achieving a design that’s practical, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. We both feel like we weren’t hired to perform a task, we were engaged to provide the best product. We’re also able to get things done way faster. Right now, people care more about timing than they do about money, as crazy as that sounds. 

What's the greatest benefit of working with an architect from the builder’s perspective?

  • M.E.: Efficiency. Dan allows me the ability to build very creative homes and gives us a very detailed map on how to get to those finishes. He doesn't make our lives more complicated, and we don't look to simplify his design. So, the true design intent is being met because we have such a great relationship. We understand each other, and we're able to adjust as necessary while being faithful to the design.  

What’s the greatest benefit of working with a builder from the architect’s perspective?

  • D.A.: Insight into feasibility and cost-effective solutions, as well as having the confidence that a plan will be properly executed. I love that when a project we’ve done with Mike is complete, I don’t walk through and notice all the missing details. Everything hasn’t been value engineered down. This can happen, and when it does, the clients are left so confused. When Mike and I work together, I can design with an eye toward the correct budget — avoiding endless iterations. We have a joke that Mike can lift up a plan, weigh it in his hands, and tell us what it’s going to cost.  

How did you meet? How did you know it was a good relationship? 

  • M.E.: We met early in our careers and just genuinely liked each other. We built a friendship before we built a business relationship. We continue to work together because we really enjoy the process.  

  • D.A.: We had trust, and it became very easy to segue into our business relationship. I know the level of quality Mike expects subcontractors to execute. When you’re seeking a collaborator, shared values are important. Looking at who else a builder or contractor works with can be an indication of the quality of their work.  

Once you find a complementary pro to work with, what’s needed to maintain a good relationship?

  • M.E.: You can’t look at a relationship like it’s a chess match where you’re trying to get something out of the other person. 

  • D.A.: Mike and I still say, we’ve never had an argument. Maintaining a good relationship basically comes down to clear, proper, and timely communication. Mike and I will talk more about a project before we need to. We also celebrate our successes. This is a very tough business, but we make it a point to share our joint and individual successes with each other. 

Within the project timeline, when is the ideal time to partner?

  • M.E.: I have a strong feeling about this. You should hire your architect and builder at the same time. It’s extremely advantageous to the client because there’s no true gauge of budget direction unless you have a builder. Budget and timeline can be established sooner if you work together. 

  • D.A.: A lot of times a client will either find a builder they love or an architect. If they come to the architect first, they’re asking the architect, “How much is it going to cost?” and the architect will say, “We need the builder for this.” If they go to the builder first, the builder is going to say, “I need a plan first.” This is why it makes sense to have the partners together from the start. 

Tell me about a favorite project you did together.

  • M.E.: I found out about some property for sale near where I grew up. I went and looked at the lots and I loved them. I called up Dan and he really liked them too, so we decided to pursue building our own homes. For me it was a two-pronged approach, it was the opportunity to create a portfolio piece, but also, I’d always dreamed of having a beautiful home. It’s what I do for other people, and I had three young kids who needed a backyard. So, we ended up going through the process and it really helped us understand the client’s side — how emotional it can be to build your dream house. It helped us build empathy. 

  • D.A.: Without question, building our personal homes was my favorite. I had never completed a new construction home before — it was around the time I launched my own studio. I didn’t need a new home. It was a business decision. I wanted to develop a portfolio piece where I could test out concepts and clients could come and see my work. Mike and I didn’t charge each other for our services, we figured out every detail together. For example, a custom trim detail that our siding contractor had never seen before, but now uses regularly on other projects. We kept each other in check with aesthetics and budget. Mike tends to be way more design-oriented than your average builder, and I tend to be way more build-oriented than your average architect. I can say with full honesty, if it weren’t for the other being involved, neither of us would have had the opportunity to build the houses we built. 

Mike, what do you appreciate the most about the perspective Dan brings as an architect?

  • M.E.: He brings exceptional designs that are unique to our market, and he brings a level of customer service that is, in my opinion, premiere. By the time we’re putting a shovel in the ground, he’s already managed and set the correct expectations — about process, timeline, etc. Having an uninformed client is a recipe for disaster, but he alleviates that concern.

Dan, what do you appreciate about the perspective Mike brings as a builder?

  • D.A.: I most appreciate that Mike has a strong understanding of real estate and can evaluate the context and practicality of any project from that perspective. Building a house is a series of answering questions and making decisions. Mike is an incredible decision-maker. He always has a practical answer because he understands the parameters set by budget and building. 

Up next: Get their strategies on helping a client build their dream home.

Building your client’s dream home can be a fun process with the right strategies in place. Two pros share key approaches they’ve developed to manage emotions, help clients articulate their vision, and maximize budgets.
Spiral staircase with floor to ceiling windows with grilles

Meet the dream team

Meet Dan

Based in Bergen County, New Jersey, an hour from midtown Manhattan, Plan Architecture creates inspired, lifestyle-enhancing designs, delivered by a passionate and devoted team. Specializing in single-family, custom residences, the firm is frequently hailed as a "hidden gem" by its sophisticated clientele, which comprises celebrities, Broadway luminaries, and prominent figures in the creative industry. 

Established in 2014, Plan Architecture is considered the largest boutique firm in the tri-state area, with a team of 25 helmed by founder and principal Dan D’Agostino, AIA. “My vision is to transform luxury architecture into an art,” says D’Agostino. “One that enriches lives, satisfies wants, and fulfills needs—both beautifully and intrinsically. We do this with honesty, creativity, innovation, excellent communication, professionalism, and patience.”


Instagram: @planarchitecture | @planinteriors

Dan D’Agostino, AIA, of Plan Architecture.

Meet Mike

As the owner of ECS Homes, it was important for me to curate a team of creative individuals, that provide emphasis on making the home building experience enjoyable for our clients. We provide consultation on the latest trends and technology. My team and I insist on the highest level of craftsmanship on each home we build. Over the last decade, we’ve forged many relationships with top-tier subcontractors and national brands. Whether the home is 5,000sf or 20,000sf and greater, we provide full-service management. We also had the pleasure of introducing ECS’s commercial division in 2016 providing owners and investors superior service & design consultation.



Builder Mahmoud “Mike” Elayan of ECS Homes